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For many survivors of domestic violence in California, sheltering in place can feel strangely familiar. Many survivors are targets of their abusers’ undivided attention — often controlling their every movement and isolating them from the outside world. Beth LaBerge/KQED
For many survivors of domestic violence in California, sheltering in place can feel strangely familiar. Many survivors are targets of their abusers’ undivided attention — often controlling their every movement and isolating them from the outside world. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

How to Shelter in Place if You Live With Domestic Abuse

How to Shelter in Place if You Live With Domestic Abuse

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Updated Friday, April 10

San Francisco Mayor London Breed and District Attorney Chesa Boudin announced on Thursday that they have secured 20 apartments that will serve as temporary housing for people experiencing domestic violence. The apartments should be available by the end of the week.

San Francisco also launched a text service that allows people to send a text to 9-1-1.  According to the press release, officials designed the service to provide "a life-saving option for people in situations, including domestic violence, where it is too dangerous to dial 9-1-1."

This comes as reports of domestic violence in the Bay Area — and across the world — appear to be on the rise since sheltering in place began.

Over the weekend, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called on governments across the world to make addressing domestic violence a central component of their coronavirus response.

For many survivors of domestic violence, sheltering in place can feel strangely familiar. Many survivors are targets of their abusers’ undivided attention — often controlling their every movement and isolating them from the outside world.

But Jill Zawisza, executive director of San Francisco-based nonprofit WOMAN, Inc. (Women Organized to Make Abuse Nonexistent), said that under normal circumstances, those experiencing abuse may have windows of time where they can leave the house and get a respite from their abuser.

"In your typical day, a survivor might be in a situation where they're in this cycle of violence," Zawisza said. "But they still need to go get their kids, maybe, or they still need to take their kid to school or they still need to go to work and run errands."

During those trips out of the house, survivors can call family members or service providers for support or shelter from the abuse.

But during a shelter-in-place order, those windows of time become much harder to come by.

"It kind of exacerbates the isolation and the options for a survivor to be able to get out of the house," Zawisza explained. "Certainly it's not impossible for a survivor to do that while there's a shelter-in-place order. It is just yet another obstacle in their way."

And while shelters are permitted to stay open under the shelter-in-place order, other services like crisis counseling and group therapy could be disrupted by the new rules.

Now, advocates are working to provide additional resources for people living in dangerous situations.

Remote Services

Since many organizations have suspended in-person services, several are using hotlines and other online tools to provide counseling. But providing remote support has its own challenges.

"It's really difficult if you're dealing with a survivor who does live with the person using abuse ... to have those confidential conversations safely. But we're trying to beef up our presence and gather up a lot of resources for survivors that exist in the community now and share them out," Zawisza said.

WOMAN, Inc. is currently providing:

  • 24/7 support line services.
  • Remote counseling via Zoom, Google Hangouts and over the phone in both English and Spanish.
  • An online domestic violence support group.

Advocates are also looking into alternative shelter options for some.

"Programs are looking at how to utilize hotel or motel stays for survivors so that they have safe shelter if it's not possible for them to come into the traditional shelter," said Krista Niemczyk, public policy manager with the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.

For example, the 20 furnished apartment units that San Francisco has allows survivors and their families, including pets, to stay for up to 90 days at no cost. The homes, which are located in several buildings throughout the city, were secured through a partnership with the real estate company Veritas.

Organizations that support survivors of domestic violence will refer clients based on availability. San Francisco officials say they're working on securing more housing.

Meanwhile, Erin Scott, executive director of the Family Violence Law Center (FVLC), said that they're working to continue providing legal services and crisis intervention services during the order.

"We are still answering our 24-hour crisis line, and we are continuing to provide legal services," Scott said. "As we learn more about the impact of the shelter-in-place order on the courts, we're having to figure out day-by-day how to modify those services."

For example, Alameda County courts have set up two drop boxes for people to file for temporary Domestic Violence Prevention Act restraining orders. One box is located at the public entrance of the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland and the other at the public entrance to the Hayward Hall of Justice.

An order from the California Judicial Council on April 6 also extended the timeframe for restraining orders.  


Creating a Safety Plan

Another way to keep yourself and your loved ones safe during this time is to stay in touch and create a plan.

"We're really stressing the importance of staying in touch with your person, with your people, letting them know that you're OK," Zawisza said. "We've talked to people about even using a code instead of texting, like, 'Help. I need you. Everything's crazy.' Just one word, like 'banana' means 'come get me.' "

Along with checking in and setting up code words, Zawisza recommends that survivors have a bag packed with the essentials in case they decide to leave.

Some other tips to consider in the house:

  • Survivors should make sure they stay near the exit, if possible.
  • Be as aware as possible of where the abuser is in the home.
  • Try to stay away from rooms with weapons in them.

And she said, at the end of the day, survivors should trust their instincts.

"If you feel like something is off. It probably is," Zawisza said.

On March 24, Sen. Kamala Harris and others signed on to a letter expressing concern for families who face an increased risk of domestic violence during the outbreak and asking the federal government to provide additional resources to service providers.

More Resources

Here's a few national and local providers and the resources they're offering during the shelter-in-place order.

  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline: You can call 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-799-7233 for TTY, or if you’re unable to speak safely, go online or text LOVEIS to 22522.
  • WOMAN, Inc.: You can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at: (877) 384-3578. Also offering remote counseling and support services.
  • La Casa de las Madres: For support, resources and safety planning, you can call La Casa de las Madres’ 24/7 hotline at 877-503-1850. You can also contact them via text at 415-200-3575. They've also put together a list of ways to prepare here.
  • STAND! For Families Free of Violence, Contra Costa County: STAND's toll-free crisis line remains active, 24 hours a day, at 1-888-215-5555.
  • Family Violence Law Center: You can call 1-800-947-8301 for crisis intervention and support, 24 hours a day. Also offering legal services.
  • Center for Domestic Peace:  If you need assistance, you can call their bilingual hotline at 415-924-6616, 24/7. Shelter requests are handled via that number, as are appointments for legal advocacy services.
  • Cooperative Restraining Order Clinic (CROC): CROC provides free legal services to domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking survivors. You can contact them at 415-969-6711.


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